Geneva Diaries #22

Miranda, Graubunden, Tarasp – Walk Down The Brahmaputra


Dear Roger,

What’s going on??? From my bunker in the hills I hear stories about things considered sacred in America, a household name: the Miranda Rights, protection against coerced confessions made by persons in police custody being mutilated (apparently the AG is asking congress to enact legislation codifying an exception to the Miranda rule in the case of a terrorism suspect). An appropriate song for my current state of mind, do check it out.

What’s Going On:

Miranda Rights based on the 5th amendment to the constitution ( right against self incrimination/Right to remain silent) and the 6th amendment (right to counsel/legal help) which every man woman and child has taken for granted reflected by the courts which have upheld it as they have been averse to overrule Miranda for the last 34 years, subsequent cases have in fact reaffirmed it by stating that unwarned (un-mirandized) statements may not be used as evidence. 

American TV programs, motion pictures, songs, media all seem to reiterate this right as core,  a right which appears to have become so integral to a culture. Even a seven year old kids playing Cops and Robbers will playact asking for an attorney before speaking to his friend The Cop. In the instance of the Times Square bomber, which really blew things up (to me it looks like the bomb actually went off as the repercussions of the act, the far reaching impact of the preventive measures destroying something core/dear to a nation, appear to be many times worse than the actual physical impact of the bomb). It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that upon arrest you can invoke your fifth, even a seven year old can playact that. The Times Square bomber and others like him who have the smarts to build a bomb, plant it and plan an escape, would most certainly know to ask for their attorney (like that 7 year old) and would not need to be reminded of their rights necessarily, as was the case with the Times Square bomber who spoke before being mirandized and continued to speak as easily after. The persons who WILL suffer if we chip into this armor, this safeguard of the 5th amendment granted through the Miranda Rights, is the minority/ low income immigrant community, single mother in a ghetto who has stayed away from school because she is pregnant with her second child and is now facing arrest and interrogation because her drug dealing boyfriend has left his stuff in her locker( drug money could easily be stretched by savvy attorneys to have terrorist links). She is the one who needs to be Mirandized, informed, guided, jolted out of her hysteria and told that society has some help out there for her, because it would all be irrelevant if  we were unable to uphold some core values : Presumption of innocence until proven guilty( do we not agree that we would free a 100 guilty men before hanging an innocent one?)

 In fact CJ Rehnquist wrote in 2000 Dickerson decision that Miranda warnings had ” become so embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become a part of our national culture”. Somewhere this seems to me to form the core, the fabric of the people, a cultural evolution, something people take for granted in a society (as the French with their privacy) what is that if not somehow enmeshed and becoming a part of the constitution of a people? I have been exploring these core ideas/rules which I understand to form the basis of our society, and am concerned about “the checks and balances” which all might be “persuaded” to do away with “in these times of terror”, The Queen of Hearts would say”Off with your head”, “Off with all your heads, both the ‘tellectuals and the terrorists”, we do have a pretty collection accumulating in our backyard now, don’t we? I would love your thoughts on this. Do check out this rap version of the Miranda rights with my all time favorite star Tom Hanks.

Miranda Rights:

OK, so over with the intense stuff, now I must share with you my incredible journey to Graubunden, exploring the easternmost canton of Switzerland. As I mentioned in my earlier mail, I was bubbling with excitement because not only did it have my much fantasized about peak the Weisshorn with its namesake in my neck of the woods, The Weisshorn Solang, but also the fact that the flag of the canton of Graubunden has a majestic black ibex rearing on its hind legs signifying freedom, independence, swiftness and bravery, all the qualities that I so admire!

We first drove to Chur, the capital of the canton, a with a settlement which dates back 5,000 years located at the foot of the most important alpine passes. A charming town with old cobbled streets and fountains carved with the most ferocious facial expressions to the extent that they were comical. These reminded me of fairytale goblins who patrol the passes extracting their due fee for safe passage.

In fact, the next day on our way taking the road via Davos and over the high and very dramatic Fluella pass, with sheer icy mountainsides stretching endlessly on either side, I witnessed nature in its stark raw beauty and realized how in a flicker millions of tons of snow, rock ice could tumble upon us from any nook and extinguish us forever, it was avalanche season, making me realize how insignificant and helpless we really are. These passes are remnants of a pre Roman time and my mind wandered to the fierce and formidable people who used to patrol and maintain this pass (and do so even now), a gargantuan task! And it brought my mind to the numerous Swiss men I see with their teddy bear looks and cute goatee beards, are essentially a people of the mountain, hardy stock that have for millennia patrolled the passes, been in sync with communication, information. Know through the caravans that pass through (and often have to pass through) their passes the pulse of the world, the treasures hidden, the secrets carried, a value far greater than the toll they extract for safe passage. Yes, the Swiss seem to have stayed synced, and do wield an impact in the passes of today, one where financial information flows, and through this maintain their edge, with a birds eye vision of the world as everything is entwined with finance. 

As we crossed the Fluella pass onto the lower Engadine, a mythical, magical place I cannot write enough about, and made our way to the charming towns of Scuols, Vulpera and Tarasp, I was reminded of the Swabian wars, or the Engadine Wars where the Swiss confederates squabbling over the control of some passes engaged into an intense war with the Habsburgs who had Swabian support. The Swiss with their military skills and determination routed a much superior force of the Swabians and massacred them as they fled with their infamous and much feared most menacing weapon: the halberd. The Halberd was a long pole with a large axe head on one side and a smaller cutter on the other, later the tip had a pike. Today it’s the ceremonial weapon of the Swiss Guards. With this they could slash and pierce every armor and were a threat to every mounted warrior. This edge that the Swiss acquired with this notorious weapon reminded me of the modern day edge they must have with their patrolling of the modern day passes: the ability to pierce any corporate veil and unmask any armor/identity as everything is so closely tied with the passage of money. What do you think?

See below Halberd:

We stayed at a charming hotel that looked like a little palace on a hill in Scuol with a room with the most mind blowing view, which the camera refused to capture and embarked upon an adventurous walk up the mountainside to the Tarasp castle. This is a place that I cannot describe, all i can say is that in my mind this is the place I always journey to. 

This was my dream! I spin through time and the decades fly before my eyes as I find myself, a four year old (I still have a vivid memory of that time) with my parents in an incredible old British colonial home on the top of a hill in the town of Gauhati in Assam. The house had the most magnificent gardens stretching all the way down the hill and at the bottom the mighty river Bhramaputra flowed. 

See Brahmaputra below:

Just like Tarasp castle a landmark of the lower Engadine, built a millennia ago, poised on the top of a hill surrounded by a magical setting, a home for the governors of Austria till the 19th century; similarly, I was told this house has been taken and was converted to the Governors house. The Bhramaputra, the largest river in India originating from Tibet flowing across the plateau, through the deepest gorge through the Himalayas and finally passing Assam, my home on its way to join the Ganges in the delta of the Sunder-bands. There has been much local lore, many myths and stories around this magnificent river, but the one comes to mind is the age old tale of  lord Brahma the creator(one of the trinity), enchanted by Amodha wife of the brahmin Shantanu(the gods are truly relentless), asked her to make love to him. He then magically inseminated her (this is where they don’t seem to have any fun) giving birth to the mighty river Bhramaputra, or son or lord Brahma.

Well, here goes the true story, at the grand age of four, I decided I must embark upon an adventure. So, I took the hand of my friend of the same age, the cooks daughter (a cook who had served as my fathers man Friday on his numerous adventures in the Himalayas) and decided to find the source of the Brahmaputra. So, we walked and we walked and we walked down the hill and along the river for miles while the entire household, was going ballistic with gardeners, cooks servants running up and down looking for ‘baby”. Mom broke down realizing that this was going to be a long journey with her child who really belonged to the “other” (fathers) side. All this while, I was really looking for a way across the river to the forest of pixies (promise you, a true story that I remember vividly), but could not find a way to get across. So, i walked and walked and walked hoping that one day I will find a way to get across the river to the land of the pixies. Well, I did. I crossed the river but this was not the Bhramaputra but the river Inn ( in the Engadine), and walked up the hill to Tarasp castle a place that came closest to that dream of the land of the pixies of my youth. Well, guess what, I did make it to Tarasp castle, it was picturesque but there was not a pixie in sight. Finally in the distance, I discovered the one I was searching for all my life, the one I ran down the hill and along the Bhramaputra for; upon seeing him, I clasped my arms around him and gave him a long kiss, even though he had been turned to stone, yes a life size sculpture of a Pixie/Gnome(do see picture pasted below):

As for my journey down the Bhramaputra, it all ended well as some worker recognized us and took us back up the hill to a furious and frenzied crowd. There were slaps, a bath and lights out.

We visited the other charming villages of the Engadine like Ardez which had homes with beautifully depicted facades especially one with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, see below Purnima in the Garden of Eden:

Zuoz and Guarda with the sgraffito, designs etched onto the cemented facades distinctly reminding me of other northern Italian journeys the Italian influence making the designs strikingly attractive. 

Visions of the Engadine and Tarasp:

The villages were silent other than the church bells but the sculptures seemed to possess a life of their own and dance around the central square to mimic the life and humanity of the silent villages. Since Graubunden is the land of Heidi, we decided to take a walk around Heidisee (the lake) with our little Heidi, Tara. Our final destination was St. Moritz where after three days together we barely managed to avoid drowning each other in the icy waters of the glorious lake!

See pics below of a ski trip to St Moritz traversing scenic Zuoz and Graubunden:

Good night and I look forward to seeing you on Tuesday!


Dear Purnima,

I have long since ceased to be surprised about any of the actions of the US government in the area of constitutional rights.  Since 9/11 and Bush’s declaration of war on terrorism, the Homeland Security Department has run rough shod over the rights of citizens (and non-citizens)!  What bothers me even more than the seeming disregard of the Miranda Rights is the total disregard of those same fifth and sixth amendment rights for anyone suspected of even the slightest collaboration with the so-called terrorists.  The many prisoners held for years at Guantanamo in a kind of legal black hole with no rights to legal counsel, a swift and fair trial, no incarceration without proof of wrongdoing, etc., etc..

A slightly related topic. Did I tell you that the family has decided to leave Spain and move to California (Ventura)?  I’m not so sure that I will feel really uncomfortable going to visit them there, and I will miss going to Valencia.  We really like the place.

I loved your description of your trip to Chur, Tarasp Castle – I had no idea it was such a charming site, and the picture of you hugging the bearded Swiss mountain gnome is priceless.  Did you realize that you are standing on your tip toes, extended vertically as well as horizontally?

And your tale of going off in search of the source of the Brahmaputra at the age of four brought back vivid memories of a similar adventure I had as a young 3-4 year-old in the mountains surrounding our home.  I wasn’t looking for anything as poetic as the source of a mighty and mythical river, but the effects of my disappearing in the middle of the afternoon with my best friend (another Roger) were very similar.

Have a great Monday and see you tomorrow or Thursday.


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto.

Purnima Viswanathan 

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